On Saturday I joined a few hundred people under a starry New Jersey sky to listen to one of America’s most cherished musicians sing to a gathering of singing, clapping and dancing friends. James Taylor, who arrives without an opening act and who cultivates some of the best artist-to-fan rapport of any performer I have ever seen, sang, played guitar, joked and told stories until the final encore was finished.
As the concert began, the first thing that becomes apparent is that Taylor’s voice sounds as fresh and young and true as it did forty-two years ago when his breakthrough song, “Fire and Rain,“ made it to #3 in 1970. Unlike McCartney and Jagger, though both a few years older, Taylor’s voice never quivers, never breaks, and through the entire two and a half hour concert, he hit every note just right–leaving us all saying, “he sounds so young.”
Joined on stage by his brother, Livingston, and his (third) wife, Caroline, James Taylor appeared, at least to this fan, to be at a place in his life where the future seems less anxious and the most important part of being alive is surrounding oneself with the people we love. His bow to the crowd at the end was a long line of holding hands that included the entire band, stretched across from one side of the stage to the other and the tenor of his concert illustrated the camaraderie between this group of musicians and singers. Taylor is sixty-four–hardly “old” by today’s new standards of longevity, and his life has been full of true drama including failed album projects, drug addiction and multiple divorces, including that from fellow music icon, Carly Simon. But, in a recent study on the phases of our lives, scientists found that the negative emotions of our youth–stress, worry, anger and sadness–peak steadily until about the age of 50, at which point they begin to decline. Generally speaking, older people, despite gender, relationship status, employment status or presence of children, feel happier. Perhaps Taylor is 14 years into a newfound peace and happiness.
In a Times article by writer and widow, Jane Brody, she discusses the years following her husband’s death after 44 years of marriage. These years, as she tells it, left her feeling sad and adrift until she found a book by John Robbins called Healthy at 100. While the book covered the importance of diet, exercise and mental stimulation, as they relate to aging, Brody zeroed in on what I have discussed several times here on this blog: that the role our relationships with others play in our overall happiness, our health and our longevity, is paramount in our lives. Putting genuine effort into nurturing and tending to these relationships is, then, the key to keeping them and reaping their benefits. In a fascinating sub-study, Robbins’ book relays information collected by psychologist, Dr. Larry Scherwitz, who taped people’s conversations to reveal their level of self-absorption and how it related to their health and longevity:
…the conversations of nearly 600 men, a third of them with heart disease. Dr. Scherwitz counted how often the men used first-person pronouns — I, me, mine — and found that those who used them most often were most likely to have heart disease and, when followed for several years, most likely to suffer heart attacks.
The psychologist advised: “Listen with regard when others talk. Give your time and energy to others; let others have their way; do things for reasons other than furthering your own needs.”
After reading Robbins’ book, Brody continues her own personal study of how loving and caring relationships transform our lives and determines that strong social ties, regardless of their type–family, friends, colleagues, church or volunteer groups–make us live longer lives, even factoring in less healthy lifestyles (although healthy lifestyles enhance this longevity). She makes the decision to get out of herself and join a cause to connect with likeminded people and work toward a goal that benefits others because she understands the personal payout will be tenfold.
In the last set of Saturday’s concert, Taylor sang one of my absolute most favorite of his songs, “Shower The People.” Besides being one of the sweetest and most lyrical songs I know, the lyrics bespeak the idea that we stand to gain so much by what we give to others.
You can run but you cannot hide
This is widely known.
And what you plan to do with your foolish pride
When you’re all by yourself alone.
Once you tell somebody the way that you feel
You can feel it beginning to ease.
I think it’s true what they say about the squeaky wheel
Always getting the grease.
Better to shower the people you love with love.
Show them the way that you feel.
According to the studies, I have about 6 more years for my anxiety about life to peak. But, I think I’m going to try to turn back my own clock and start happiness sooner, starting with you all. Thank you for stopping by all these Mondays, my friends. I cherish you all.
TRY THIS WEEK: Shower the people you love with love.